I am so glad this series is almost finished, it’s getting more difficult to measure one legend’s career against another. I grappled back & forth between Lawrence Taylor & Sid Luckman for the top spot with this pick. Luckman revolutionized the passing game, leading the Bears to four NFL Championships along the way. Lawrence Taylor’s size & speed revolutionized the way outside linebackers are used, and sent every team in the league searching for someone that could do what he did.
It even led to a few highly drafted busts that were supposed to be the next Lawrence Taylor, like the first overall pick in the 1988 draft, Atlanta’s Aundray Bruce. There have been plenty of strikeouts at both positions, but in the end, I just went with the player that I considered to be the better of the two. So, here’s my ranking of the top 10 NFL players drafted with the second overall pick:
10. Philadelphia Eagles-Donovan McNabb, QB, Syracuse, 1999
It’s a little strange to look at a career like his & remember that he was booed by the Eagles fans at the draft because they wanted Ricky Williams. He did have a rough beginning, completing less than 50% of his passes as a rookie, going 106-216 for 948 yards, eight touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He did much better in 2000, going 11-5 as a starter, and throwing for 3,365 yards and 21 touchdowns. He went 11-5 again in 2001, throwing for 3,233 yards and 25 touchdowns.
He led the Eagles to the NFC Championship in 2001, but they lost to the Rams. McNabb went on to lead the Eagles to four straight NFC Championship games, and finally reached the Super Bowl at the end of the 2004 season. The team lost Super Bowl XXXIX to the Patriots, but it was close, with a final score of 24-21. He did earn recognition for his four straight NFC Championship game appearances, earning selection to five straight Pro Bowls (2000-2004).
He was banged up a bit over the next two years, starting nine games in 2005, and 10 games in 2006. He missed two games in 2007, but still threw for 3,324 yards, 19 touchdowns, and only seven picks. In 2008 he started all 16 games, going 9-6-1, and finishing with a career high 3,916 yards, with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He made the fifth NFC Championship appearance of his career, but lost 32-25 to the Cardinals.
In 2009 he missed two starts, but went 10-4 as a starter, completing 60.3% of his passes for 3,553 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, earning his sixth Pro Bowl selection. After the season, the Eagles traded him to the division rival Washington Redskins for a second round pick. He wound up with 13 starts, going 5-8 as a starter, completing 58.3% of his passes for 3,377 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. After his rough outing with the Redskins, they traded him to the Vikings in 2011 for a sixth round pick. As luck would have it, that sixth round pick produced running back Alfred Morris.
His luck with the Vikings wasn’t any better than it was with the Redskins. He started six games, going 1-5 as a starter, completing 60.3% of his passes for 1,026 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions. He was released by the Vikings in December so he could try to latch on with a playoff contender with an injured quarterback, since there were three teams in that predicament at the time. Ultimately, he didn’t sign with anyone, and wound up officially retiring with the Eagles in 2013. The team retired his jersey #5, and he was named to the Philadelphia Eagles 75th Anniversary Team. In 13 seasons in the NFL he completed 3,170 passes out of 5,374 attempts, throwing for 37,276 yards, 234 touchdowns, and 117 interceptions, with a passer rating of 85.6.
9. L.A. Rams-Tom Mack, G, Michigan, 1966
He spent his entire 13 year career with the Rams (1966-1978). He was selected to 11 Pro Bowls in his 13 seasons, only missing out in his rookie year of 1966, and the 1976 season. He was inducted into the St. Louis Football Ring of Fame in 1999, the same year as his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was named to the Los Angeles Rams 40th Anniversary Team. He never missed a game in his career, playing in 184 straight games.
8. Carolina Panthers-Julius Peppers, DE, North Carolina, 2002
He burst onto the scene with 12 sacks as a rookie, and was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year for 2002 by the Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers of America. The team turned itself around so quickly that they wound up in the Super Bowl only a year after picking Peppers with the second pick. They did wind up losing Super Bowl XXXVIII to the Patriots, but it was still an impressive turnaround. He was named to his first of three straight Pro Bowls (2004-2006), with 64 tackles (52 solo), 11 sacks, seven passes defensed, four forced fumbles, and two interceptions for 143 yards and a touchdown.
He had a streak of three years in a row with double digits in sacks, with 10.5 in 2005, and 13 in 2006. He missed two games in 2007, and was held to 2.5 sacks, but he came roaring back the next year. He was right back in the Pro Bowl in 2008, his first of five in a row (2008-2012), with 14.5 sacks. In 2009 he had the second interception returned for a touchdown in his career, and even with 10.5 sacks, the Panthers decided to let him leave in free agency the following year.
In 2010 he signed a six year deal with the Bears worth 90 million, and produced 54 tackles (43 solo), nine passes defensed, eight sacks, three forced fumbles, and two interceptions. He had 11 sacks in 2011, and 11.5 in 2012. In 2013 he had only seven sacks, and was released after the season for salary cap space. He signed with the Packers just four days after being released by the Bears.
He was a big time difference maker in Green Bay, in spite of the fact that he was playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense for the first time in his career. He started all 16 games, and had two interceptions for 101 yards, returning both of them for touchdowns. He also had 54 tackles (34 solo), seven sacks, a career high 11 passes defensed, six forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. So far in his career, he’s played 13 years (2002-2009 Panthers, 2010-2013 Bears, 2014 Packers), starting 200 of the 202 games he’s played, recording 610 tackles (482 solo), 125.5 sacks, 75 passes defensed, 46 forced fumbles, 17 fumble recoveries for 131 yards and two touchdowns, and 11 interceptions for 293 yards and four touchdowns. He is the first player in NFL history with 100 sacks and 10 interceptions in his career.
7. Detroit Lions-Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech, 2007
He had a decent rookie season, starting 10 of the 15 games he played, and had 48 catches for 756 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 15.8 yards per catch. In 2008 he had 78 catches for 1,331 yards, and led the league with 12 touchdown catches. He missed two games in 2009, but still had 67 catches for 984 yards and five touchdowns. In 2010 he had his first of five straight Pro Bowl selections (2010-2014), with 77 catches for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns.
In 2011 he led the league in receiving yardage, with 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns on 96 catches. In 2012 he broke Jerry Rice’s single season receiving yardage record (1,848 yards). He led the league with 122 catches for 1,964 yards and five touchdowns. He wound up leading the NFC in receiving yardage three years in a row, with 84 catches for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013. He missed three games in 2014, but still had 71 catches for 1,077 yards and eight touchdowns.
After eight seasons, he has played in 119 games, with 114 starts, and has 643 catches for 10,405 yards and 74 touchdowns, averaging 16.2 yards per catch. He has ranked in the top 10 in the NFL’s Top 100 list in each of the last four years, ranking third in 2012 & 2013, second in 2014, and sixth in 2015. He is tied with Chargers Hall of Famer Lance Alworth for most 200 yard games in a career, with five. That record is one of 15 NFL records he has set so far, and there’s still plenty of time for him to set more.
6. Dallas Cowboys-Tony Dorsett, RB, Pittsburgh, 1977
Even though he only started four of the 14 games in 1977, he led the team in rushing with 1,007 yards and 12 touchdowns on 208 attempts. He had the league’s longest run of the season, an 84 yarder. He had 15 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown in the Cowboys 27-10 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XII. I would bet that this lands him on a short list of Hall of Fame players who got a Championship ring as a rookie.
He followed his rookie season with his first Pro Bowl selection in 1978, rushing for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns on 290 carries. The Cowboys made it to Super Bowl XIII, but lost to the Steelers. He went over 1,100 yards in each of the next two seasons, with 1,107 yards in 1979, and 1,185 yards and 11 touchdowns in 1980. He was named to the Pro Bowl in each of the next three seasons (1981-1983).
He averaged more than 100 yards rushing per game in 1981, with 342 carries for 1,646 yards and four touchdowns. If it weren’t for the player strike limiting them to nine games in 1982, he likely would have had a streak of nine straight seasons with at least 1,000 yards rushing. He led the league with 177 carries in 1982, with 745 yards and five touchdowns, including a record setting 99 yard run. Things were back to normal in 1983, with his third straight Pro Bowl season, rushing for 1,321 yards and eight touchdowns.
He still had two more 1,000 yard seasons left: rushing for 1,189 yards in 1984, and 1,307 yards in 1985. He did see a reduction in his workload after USFL star Herschel Walker joined the team, and had 184 carries for 748 yards and five touchdowns in 1986. In 1987 he started only six of 12 games in the strike shortened season, with only 130 carries for 456 yards and a touchdown. He was traded to the Denver Broncos for a fifth round pick in 1989, and led the team with 703 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 181 carries.
He suffered a season ending injury before the preseason in 1989, and wound up retiring afterward. Overall, he played 12 years (1977-1987 Cowboys, 1988 Broncos), starting 152 of the 173 games he played. He had 2,936 carries for 12,739 yards and 77 touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He also had 398 catches for 3,554 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
5. Dallas Cowboys-Randy White, DT, Maryland, 1975
He served as a backup in his first two seasons, but became a “manster”(his nickname) in his third season. He moved from middle linebacker to defensive tackle in 1977, and earned his first of nine straight Pro Bowl selections (1977-1985). He & teammate Harvey Martin were the first co-MVP’s of a Super Bowl in the team’s 27-10 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XII. He started 165 of the 209 games he played in his career.
In 14 years he had 1,104 tackles (704 solo), 111 sacks unofficially (52 from 1982-1988, when the sack first became an official stat). His greatest single season was 1978, when he had 16 sacks. He played in six NFC Championship games, and three Super Bowls. He was inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor in 1994, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994, his first year of eligibility.
4. Indianapolis Colts-Marshall Faulk, RB, San Diego State, 1994
He was named the 1994 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year by four different sports media organizations. He was also named to the pro Bowl as rookie, when he had 314 carries for 1,282 yards and 11 touchdowns, and 52 catches for 522 yards and one touchdown. Even with a so-called sophomore slump, he still had 1,553 yards from scrimmage in 1995: 1,078 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, and 56 catches for 475 yards and three touchdowns. His rushing average dipped down to three yards per carry in 1996, with 198 carries for 587 yards and seven touchdowns, along with 428 yards receiving on 56 catches.
He rebounded nicely in 1997, with 264 carries for 1,054 yards and seven touchdowns, and 47 catches for 471 yards and a touchdown. In 1998, with rookie Peyton Manning as his quarterback, he led the league with 2,227 yards from scrimmage: with 1,319 yards rushing & six touchdowns, and 86 catches for 908 yards and four touchdowns. His 1998 season started a streak of five straight Pro Bowl selections (1998-2002). With the Colts concerned about a possible holdout, they traded him to the Rams for picks in the second & fifth round in 1999.
Faulk wound up setting a new NFL record with 2,429 yards from scrimmage, and helped lead the Rams to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV. He had 253 carries for 1,381 yards and seven touchdowns, and 87 catches for 1,048 yards and five touchdowns, becoming only the second player in NFL history with 1,000 yards rushing & receiving in the same season. In 2000 he had over 2,000 yards from scrimmage for the third straight season, with 253 carries for 1,359 yards and a league leading 18 touchdowns, along with 81 catches for 830 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2001 he became the first player in NFL history with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in four consecutive seasons. He had 260 carries for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, and 83 catches for 765 yards and nine touchdowns in 2001.
In 2002 he started 10 of 14 games played, and had 212 carries for 953 yards and eight touchdowns, along with 80 catches for 537 yards and two touchdowns. In 2003 he missed five games, finishing with 818 yards and 10 touchdowns, and 45 catches for 290 yards and a touchdown. With Faulk finally starting to show signs of wear & tear, and Trung Canidate not developing as planned, the team drafted Steven Jackson in the first round of the 2004 draft. The two of them split the load in 2004, with Steven Jackson rushing for 673 yards, and Faulk rushing for 774 yards.
Jackson became the full time starter in 2005, and Faulk had only one start, but still played in all 16 games. In his final season, he had 65 carries for 292 yards, and 44 catches for 291 yards and a touchdown. Overall, he played 12 years in the NFL, split between the Colts (1994-1998), and the Rams (1999-2005). He started 156 of the 176 games he played, with 2,836 carries for 12,279 yards and 100 touchdowns, along with 767 catches for 6,875 yards and 36 touchdowns. He was named the NFL MVP by multiple sports media groups in 2000 & 2001, he was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1999, 2000, and 2001, and he was the Rams MVP from 1999-2001. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011, he had his jersey #28 retired by the Rams, and was inducted into the Indianapolis Colts Ring of Fame in 2013.
3. L.A. Rams-Eric Dickerson, RB, Southern Methodist, 1983
The “man amongst boys” analogy works here, with Dickerson leading the league in yards from scrimmage (2,212), carries (390), and rushing yards (1,808) as a rookie, and he added 18 rushing touchdowns, and two more as a receiver. He did the unthinkable and topped those numbers in his second year, breaking the league’s single season rushing yardage record, with 378 carries for 2,105 yards, and a league leading 14 touchdowns. He missed two games in his third season (1985), but still rushed for 1,234 yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 games. He led the league in rushing again in 1986, with 404 carries for 1,821 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He was with the Rams for three games in 1987 before being shipped to the Indianapolis Colts in one of the biggest trades in NFL history. The Colts traded their unsigned first round pick from the 1987 draft, outside linebacker Cornelius Bennett, to the Bills for their #1 pick in 1988, their #1 & #2 picks in 1989, and running back Greg Bell. The Colts packaged it all together with their first round pick in 1988, their second round picks in 1988 & 1989, and running back Owen Gill for Dickerson. Dickerson went on to run for 1,011 yards and five touchdowns in the nine remaining games during the strike shortened 1987 season, with a grand total of 1,288 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games split between the Colts and the Rams.
In 1988 he was back to his usual self, leading the league in yards from scrimmage (2,036), rushing yards (1,659), and carries (388), all while adding 14 touchdowns on the ground. He missed one game in 1989, but still had 314 carries for 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns, and earned his sixth Pro Bowl selection (1983, 1984, 1986-1989). He missed the start of the 1990 season because of a contract dispute, and was limited to 166 carries for 677 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games with eight starts. The 1991 season was a similar story, with nine starts in 10 games, with 167 carries for 536 yards and two touchdowns, with an average of only 3.2 yards per carry.
With the Colts suffering through a 1-15 season, and with Dickerson suspended in November 1991, the team traded him to the Raiders for picks in rounds 4 and 8 in the 1992 draft. He shared the workload with Marcus Allen & Nick Bell with the Raiders, and had 187 carries for 729 yards and two touchdowns. He was traded to Atlanta in July 1993, where he started two of four games, and had 26 carries for 91 yards. The Falcons tried to trade him again, but he failed a physical with the Packers, and then retired afterward.
He played a total of 11 seasons in the NFL with the Rams (1983-1987), Colts (1987-1991) Raiders (1992), and Falcons (1993). He was named to the NFL 1980’s All-Decade Team, & he had his #29 retired by the Rams. In 11 seasons he played in 146 games, and had 2,996 carries for 13,259 yards and 90 touchdowns, along with 281 catches for 2,137 yards and six touchdowns. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999, and into the Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor in 2013. He was the second leading rusher of all time, behind only Walter Payton when he retired in 1993, but he has since been surpassed by Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Jerome Bettis.
2. Chicago Bears-Sid Luckman, QB, Columbia, 1939
Even though he doesn’t have the numbers you’ll see from today’s perfected passing game with multiple 4,000 yard seasons, this guy is one of the most important innovators at his position. Before George Halas got this crazy idea to have the quarterback throw more often, there were only two quarterbacks in NFL history with more than 1,000 yards passing in a single season! The Packers’ Arnie Heber was the single season record holder, with 1,239 yards in 1936, followed closely by the Redskins Sammy Baugh’s 1,127 yards in 1937.
His numbers weren’t that great initially, but the team was winning more. He threw for 940 yards, four touchdowns, and nine interceptions in 1940. He led the team to the championship against the Redskins, and it turned into the biggest blowout win in NFL history, with the Bears winning 73-0. They were right back in the NFL championship the next year, this time beating the Giants 37-9. In 1942 he threw for 1,024 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions, reaching a third straight NFL Championship, but this time losing to the Redskins 14-6.
In 1943 they reached their fourth NFL Championship in a row, beating the Redskins 41-21. Luckman led the NFL in several passing categories that year, leading the league with 2,194 yards, 28 touchdowns,and only 12 interceptions. His touchdown percentage of 13.9% (28 touchdowns in 202 attempts) is still a league record. He was also the first player with over 400 yards passing in a single game (443 yards), and the first to throw seven touchdowns in one game (in the same game with 443 yards). He was named the NFL MVP that year as well.
His military service cut into his playing time in 1944 & 1945, with only two starts in 10 games in 1945, but he still led the league with 1,727 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1945. He was back to being a full timer in 1946, leading the league with 1,826 yards and 17 touchdowns. He led the Bears to the 1946 NFL Championship, beating the Giants 24-14. In 1947 he threw for 2,712 yards and 24 touchdowns, but also led the league with 31 interceptions.
The 1948 season was his last year with over a thousand passing yards, with 1,047 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He had only one touchdown each year in 1949 & 1950, his last two seasons. In 12 years he played in 128 games, with 904 completions out of 1,744 attempts for 14,686 yards, 137 touchdowns, and 132 interceptions. He was a AP First Team All Pro from 1941-1944 & 1947, Second Team All Pro once (1946), won four NFL Championships (1940, 1941, 1943, 1946), led the league in touchdown passes three times, and was named to the NFL 1940’s All-Decade Team. His jersey #42 was retired by the Bears, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965, which was only the third year of it’s existence.
1. New York Giants-Lawrence Taylor, LB, North Carolina, 1981
I teetered back & forth on this pick a couple of times, starting with LT at #1, and Luckman #2, then switching Luckman to #1 when I discovered that he was the first quarterback to use the forward pass as something more than a last minute desperation act. However, with Lawrence Taylor regarded by most as the greatest defensive player in NFL history, I had to switch it back to the original rankings. When the Giants made this pick, their utilization of his size, speed & skills made every other NFL team set out in search of “the next Lawrence Taylor”. There were quite a few that panned out over the next decade, like Kevin Greene, Charles Haley, Cornelius Bennett, Tim Harris, and Pat Swilling, just to name a few.
In 1981 he was the first player to be named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, also earning a Pro Bowl selection with 9.5 sacks, one fumble recovery, and one interception returned for one yard. He was named the Defensive Player of the Year again in 1982, when he had 7.5 sacks during the strike-shortened nine game season. He was chosen for the Pro Bowl again that year, and added what might be the most impressive play of his career: a 97 yard interception return for a touchdown. He earned his third Pro Bowl selection in 1983, with nine sacks, two fumble recoveries, and two interceptions returned for 10 yards.
The 1984 season was the first of seven consecutive double digit sack seasons: 11.5 sacks, and an interception with a one yard loss. He had 13 sacks and two fumble recoveries in 1985, earning his fifth straight Pro Bowl selection. He had 20.5 sacks in 1986, becoming only the second player in NFL history (after the Jets’ Mark Gastineau’s 22 in 1984) with 20 or more sacks in a season. That season also earned him NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors for the third time in his career, as well as his sixth straight Pro Bowl selection. The Giants went on to beat the Broncos 39-20 in Super Bowl XXI, completing a virtually perfect season for him.
In the strike-shortened 1987 season he had three interceptions and 12 sacks in 12 games, earning his seventh Pro Bowl selection. He was suspended 30 days by the league for testing positive for cocaine in 1988, and the team went 2-2 in his absence. He returned and had the second highest sack total of his career: 15.5, in only 12 games, earning his eighth straight Pro Bowl selection. He started 15 of 16 games in 1989, and had another 15 sacks, and of course, his ninth straight Pro Bowl selection.
He started all 16 games in 1990, producing 10.5 sacks, one fumble recovery, and one interception returned 11 yards for a touchdown. The Giants went on to win Super Bowl XXV, 20-19, earning Taylor the second championship ring of his career. He earned a then record 10th straight Pro Bowl selection of his career (1981-1990). His numbers declined a bit when the regime change the team went through following the retirement of head coach Bill Parcells.
He had seven sacks in 14 games in 1991, and it marked the first time in his career that he wasn’t selected for the Pro Bowl. In 1992 he played in only nine games because of a ruptured Achilles tendon, and the team went 1-6 as he missed the final seven games. He came back to play one final season for new coach Dan Reeves in 1993, starting 15 of 16 games and recording six sacks. The official stat sheets for his career will only show 132.5 sacks, but that’s because sacks weren’t an official statistic until 1982, meaning his 9.5 sacks as a rookie aren’t recorded on the official listings. With those 9.5 sacks added, he would have 142, or a half-sack ahead of former teammate Michael Strahan’s 141.5, good for fifth among the all-time sack leaders. On the official listings, he is tied for 11th with Leslie O’Neal, with 132.5 sacks.
In 13 seasons he started 180 of the 184 games he played, recording 1,088 tackles, nine interceptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns, and 11 fumble recoveries in addition to all of the sacks. He was named to 10 straight Pro Bowls, won two Super Bowls, was the NFL MVP in 1986, won NFL Defensive Player of the Year award three times in six years, was the 1981 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, he was named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, the NFL 1980’s All-Decade Team, and had his jersey number #56 retired by the team. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999, and was added to the Giants Ring of Honor when it was created in 2010. He was ranked third on The Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players, behind only Jim Brown and Jerry Rice.